Thursday, June 7, 2007

2007 Vintage Virginia Festival

On Saturday June 2nd, we attended the 2007 Vintage Virginia festival, which featured wines from over fifty wineries from throughout the state. We wanted to use this event to sample the latest vintages of Norton and find out which wineries were going to participate in the first annual National Norton Festival in September. This event also enabled us to sample wines from wineries we had not visited, particular those in central and southwestern Virginia.

But first, we said hello to several friends at northern Virginia wineries and for the first time we tasted wines from Fabbioli Cellars, a winery that before this summer was only open on a limited basis. Douglas Fabbioli took his 25 years experience working in the wine industry in California, New York, and Virginia and started his winery just north of Leesburg. He grows or sources several different varieties of grapes for his wines, including Chambourcin, Tannat, Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. A central theme of the festival was the outstanding Cabernet javascript:void(0)
Save NowFranc that is being made in Virginia, and Fabbioli’s is no exception. Theirs is a medium bodied wine with cherry flavors and a smooth finish. We also enjoyed their Fratelli, a Chambourcin-Tannat blend and the Tre Sorelle – a blend of Merlot, Tannat and Petit Verdot. Luckily, starting this summer the winery will be open on Saturdays.

We spent time at two other Northern Virginia wineries, Village Winery and Chrysalis Vineyards. Village Winery is one of the smallest wineries in the state, but makes in outstanding array of wines. We were always big fans of their Cabernet Franc and Elderberry (one of the only dry Elderberry wines you will find in the country), but this year they also introduced a Viognier and Apple wine. Not surprisingly the Apple wine is their new best seller – it is dry, but very flavorful. Kent Marrs told us that red wine customers are purchasing the apple wine as much as the white wine drinkers. We are also big fans of Chrysalis and large Norton and Viognier offerings. Since the Viognier is sometimes too pricy for our budget, the festival is a good chance to try the wine – several times. Chrysalis has the largest planting of Norton in the country and the quality continues to rise. Their latest Norton estate won a double gold (unanimous selection) at this year’s Riverside International. Ms. McCloud is very enthusiastic about Norton as well as her winery’s chances in the National Norton Competition. And for good reason, their Norton’s are full bodied and smooth – with little signs of acidity that are often present in Norton wine.

From Chrysalis, we went out to taste the Norton offerings of
Horton Vineyards, Burnley Vineyards, Cooper Vineyards, Keswick Vineyards, Peaks of Otter Winery, and Valhalla Vineyards. Of these are favorites were Keswick’s and Valhalla’s. The Keswick Norton was the best; theirs is aged 5 months in French Oak that produces a full-bodied wine with the normal grapey flavor, but a slight spicy finish. This wine will fare well against the Missouri Nortons. Valhalla’s Norton is also full-bodied but made as more an every day dinner wine. The finish is smooth and tasty. Valhalla also makes an interesting Alicante Bouschet. This grape is a sibling of Grenache and is usually used to add color to blends. Valhalla has managed to create a wine with incredibly dark color, “the darkest red wine you are likely to enjoy”, but that also has a flavorful taste and a long spicy finish. This is the type of wine to have on hand when you get bored with the everyday varietals.

We also tasted good wines from a couple neighbors of Valhalla, Fincastle Vineyard & Winery and Rockbridge Vineyard. Fincastle was pouring two very good red wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The Cab Franc was worth buying. It is a medium bodied wine with a great cherry aroma and flavor. The finish is slightly spicy – but smooth – very smooth. Fincastle also operated a bed and breakfast, so if your travels take you to Lexington or Roanoke – Fincastle is a great option. Traveling north, past Lexington would bring you to Rockbridge Vineyard and one of our favorite everyday summer wines, St. Mary’s Blanc. This off-dry Vidal based wine is fermented in oak, and for $10 is perfect for summer afternoons, dinner, you name it. Rockbridge also makes a good Riesling and this year’s vintage won a Silver medal in the Finger Lakes, not too shabby – entering the Lion’s den and coming home a winner. Two other Rockbridge wines deserve attention. Their Cabernet Franc is a good representation of the vinifera wine being produced in Virginia and it won a Gold medal at the 2006 Governor’s Cup Competition. Another Gold medal winner at this event was Rockbridge’s Vd’Or, an ice-wine styled wine made from late harvest Vidal. The grapes are frozen, and then pressed; the result is a Sauterne type wine with orange-honey flavors.

It is well apparent that Virginia wineries can produce excellent wines from vinifera grapes. The days of using solely hybrids are gone. One of the first pioneers in growing vinifera grapes in modern day Virginia was Gabriele Rausse, who first worked at Jefferson Vineyards, but now owns and operates his winery that bears his name. We never pass an opportunity to try his wines and today we sampled 14 of them, all made from vinifera grapes grown in Virginia. For whites Rausse offers your standard Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, but it was the Viognier that stood out. This wine is aged 1 year in French oak, which provides a slight buttery taste that you don’t expect – or would expect with a Chardonnay. However, this process works for Viognier and this wine would be perfect with a meal. Rausse makes two rose styled wines, the Rosso from Cabernet Franc and the Dry Rose, made from juice bled from several red varietals. This is a great wine and perfect for those who are looking for something new. For reds, Gabriele Rausse offers something for everyone. They have a full-boded Merlot, an excellent Cabernet Franc, a Cabernet Sauvignon aged in stainless steel, a spicy Shiraz made from Orange County grapes, and two excellent reserve wines, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005 and the Nebbiole Reserve 2005. Both of these reserves wines are pricy ($35) so the festival provided a great opportunity to taste wines that we normal would not have purchased. Of the two, the Nebbiole was awesome, full bodied with light tannins. Gabriele Rausse wines are only available in retail outlets in Charlottesville, so if you are in the area…..

There are several more Virginia wine festivals scheduled for this summer and fall. Check the Virginia Wine Compass page to find one close to you.

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